Stress-free holidays

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)--By mid-December, you may be grimacing when you hear Andy Williams croon, "It's the most wonderful time of all," on the radio. By then you might be yearning to hear the strains of "Auld Lang Syne."

But before the Christmas whirlwind begins: Take a deep breath and pray for peace and hope to fill your heart.

Most of us have problems with stress sometime during the year, but the Christmas season seems to bring out the worst in all of us.

One-third of Americans live with extreme stress year-round and nearly half of Americans (48 percent) believe that their stress has increased over the past five years, according to a survey released by the American Psychological Association in October. Most of those surveyed (75 percent) tagged money and work as the contributing factors to the tension in their lives.

Richard Swenson, a physician and author of several books on stress, including "Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives," says, "Stress is such a common term that we might tend to trivialize it, assuming it's a convenient fiction for the weak who do not wish to do their best. Such an attitude would be a mistake. Stress is real, it is increasing and it can be highly pathogenic." Swenson is a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Associations.

With the Christmas shopping season nearly upon us, it is wise to plan ahead to minimize the anxiety and maximize the joy that often comes with the season. Experts might call this managing stress.

To avoid the build-up of stress knocking you down during the Christmas holiday, consider these tips:

-- Be reasonable in your expectations of the holidays.

-- Focus on the first Christmas. Involve your family in a ministry to the less fortunate in your community.

-- Be realistic in your spending plans. Set a realistic budget and don't budge from it.

-- Avoid impulse shopping. Make sure you save your receipts in order to return merchandise once you've gone home and surveyed all your purchases.

-- Take advantage of special sales, but refuse to consider bargains once you've finished your shopping list.

-- Plan ahead and take advantage of sales to buy gifts year around, but make sure you keep good track of your "good deals." A toy you bought on clearance for your preschool son doesn't have quite the same value it originally did when you discover it in the attic, still in the bag, when he is in 6th grade.

-- Make it a family-centered Christmas. Recall the favorite Christmas memories of your youth and seek to recreate them, e.g., make sugar cookies and snicker doodles from scratch as a family. Craft garlands of construction paper loops to decorate your tree. Set aside time to drive through town to see the Christmas lights. Visit a live nativity if one is held in your community.

-- A big buildup to Christmas day leads to a big letdown the day after Christmas. Keep the Christmas spirit alive by planning family events during the week after Christmas and throughout January.

-- Listen to Christmas carols -- even before Thanksgiving!

-- Make Jesus the focus. Celebrate the Christ -- His birth, His life, His death and resurrection -- this season. Rejoice in the new, victorious life you have in Him.

Give a gift of good health to your family this Christmas -- don't let the stress of the season sour your spirit and muddle your family's merriment.


Dwayne Hastings is a writer for the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

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